When it comes to community building, having clarity on basic SEO principles helps you grow exponentially in months. Nowadays, users are more inclined to click on organic results instead of ads. So, let’s have a look at how to leverage SEO to grow your online community.
What Is Search Engine Optimization and How Can It Promote Community Growth?
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is all about optimizing your community by targeting specific keywords. This way, your ideal members can find you organically (without you having to pay for ads).
The goal is for your community to appear at the top of search result pages (SERPs) for specific keywords that are descriptive of your community.
SEO is a very complex marketing discipline, and there are many, many aspects that affect your rankings in search engines. Google alone uses over 200 ranking factors to determine where to position a specific page in SERPs. However, today we are going to focus on fundamental SEO principles that most heavily influence your community’s ranking.
Let’s say you have a community for community builders, such as The Community Club. When you look for the phrase “community for community builders” on Google they are the first result.
So, this community has a good SEO strategy in place, because its ideal members can easily find it. They do a good job regarding keyword research, posting high-quality content, matching users’ search intent, and making sure their website is easily indexable for search engines. We’ll cover all of this later.
The Two Sides of SEO
For now, you need to know that SEO divides into two components. On the one hand, there is on-site SEO. This involves technical expertise in configuring a website (specifically, its HTML code) for it to become easily indexable by search engines. Additionally, you can perform on-site SEO by optimizing content attributes. These include meta descriptions, title tags, alt texts, and anchor texts.
On the other hand, you can also perform off-site SEO. Off-site SEO encloses all actions you do outside the website to signal search engines that your site is reliable and trustworthy. In summary, we are talking about building backlinks by guest posting, media mentions, and influencer outreach.
Remember that is better for you to own your community’s space (by having a membership site, for example) in order to do SEO. Otherwise, you can’t control optimization. We don’t recommend building your community on social media sites (such as Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn). Those sites’ content isn’t indexed and ranked by Google and other search engines.
With that said, SEO is a key aspect of marketing to focus on if you want to speed your community growth. Let’s review some basic SEO principles you can implement to be discovered by more people and grow your community.
Basic SEO Principles You Can Implement Today
#1: Choose the Right Keywords and Use Them Where it Matters
Keyword research is a crucial aspect of a good SEO strategy. In a few words, it involves discovering keywords related to your community that your ideal members may use when performing queries in search engines.
The keyword research process involves choosing an SEO tool that allows you to analyze different keywords. You have to look at the volume (the times that keyword is searched for in a month) and difficulty (how hard it is to rank in organic search results for that keyword).
The ideal will be to choose keywords that are highly relevant to your community’s nature and content, which also have high volume and low difficulty.
Then, you need to sprinkle those keywords (without keyword stuffing, which can hurt your ranking) in the places that matter. This involves on-site SEO, where you optimize your content by adding the right keyword into tag titles, meta descriptions, anchor texts, alt texts, URLs, and the content itself.
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#2: Generate Relevant, High-Quality Content Regularly
All the optimization aside, the best way to rank on search engines and one of the most important SEO principles is to create high-quality content. This becomes more difficult to control when your community is, for example, an online forum, where there is lots of user-generated content every day.
In this case, your best course of action is to guide the discussion in a way that prompts the members to post highly relevant content. Additionally, moderation becomes an essential part to regulate the content’s quality.
This model also has a very special advantage: you don’t have to do the entire effort of generating fresh content all the time. Instead, your members do the work for you.
On the other hand, if your community is private (for example, if it runs on a Discord server) you can generate content for the community’s website. This way, you have more control over the quality. However, this also means you need to make an effort to regularly produce content.
But, what content your ideal users may be looking for? The process of keyword research and also looking at what your competitors are publishing may give you relevant inspiration. Something to keep in mind: more important than filling your content with keywords is that the content matches users’ search intent and provides them with real value.
For example, Late Checkout is a community that regularly delights its members with publications about crypto, NFTs, and Web3 in general. Although they don’t publish the content on their own website, they do it in Substack, where publications are indexed in Google and can be found for ideal members.
#3: Ask for Feedback and Look for Backlink Opportunities
Evaluating the needs and preferences of community members is very important not only for UX but also for delivering the right content and increasing engagement among members. In this sense, asking for feedback is crucial. You can use polls and other methods to determine what type of content they want to see.
A good idea to find inspiration is to track your internal search queries. For this, you need a Site Search set up in Google Analytics. This will tell you exactly what phrases members are looking for. Additionally, tools like Answer the Public can give you long-tail keywords and related ideas to write content that is relevant to your ideal members.
On the other hand, backlinks are very important for SEO. These are links from external sites that point to your community. If the sites you get backlinks have good domain authority, this will signal to search engines your community is trustworthy and a good site to rank. According to the industry you’re in, there are many places where you can list your project URL and promote it. For example, sites such as Capterra for software, or DecentReviews for crypto and Web3 projects.
You can see all your backlinks with most SEO tools. Unless the links have specific link attributes, they are considered a “do follow” link. This is good when links come from high authority sites. However, if they are not, using a “no follow” attribute sends a signal to search engines that your community is not vouching for the credibility of the destination site.
There are two more link attributes. The “UGC” attribute stands for user-generated content: links posted by members of the community should have this tag. The other link attribute is “sponsored“, and you should add it when offering advertising services to your community by linking to certain sites (for example, banner ads).
#4: Improve UX (User Experience)
User experience is a big one among SEO principles, that will influence whether your online community gets ranked on search engines. But, what does UX involve?
It all has to do with making your website as user-friendly as possible, having a clear structure, and facilitating users to utilize the website to find what they want. This is a non-comprehensive list of some UX principles to keep in mind:
- Simplify your navigation menu and create a practical, understandable structure.
- Ensure trending pages and crucial information are easily findable.
- Consider using breadcrumb navigation, which boosts UX and SEO significantly.
- Make content readable with bullet points, lists, and paragraph breaks.
- Use an attractive and easy-to-read color scheme.
- Include plenty of visual and video content in addition to text.
Orbit makes an awesome job regarding UX. The community’s website has an interesting, interactive design that also involves easily understandable content and lots of graphics. Additionally, they have a mobile responsive website and do really well on the PageSpeed Insights test (which measures web core vitals). Both responsiveness and good web core vitals are also UX factors that impact SEO.
#5: Technical SEO Principles and Tools
Technical SEO configurations may require the expertise of an SEO professional because there are a little more advanced than what we cover so far.
On the one hand, you need to make sure your content is publicly accessible to search engines. This is done via the robots.txt file. Editing this file and using no-index directives will tell search engine bots which pages to crawl and which not to crawl.
Additionally, although sitemaps are not mandatory, they help search engines discover pages in your community. A sitemap is a structured list of all pages. It not only shows search engines which pages exist but also the priority of each and when they were last updated.
Another technical SEO aspect is schema markups. Schema allows community builders to embed structured data into web pages: different web pages with diverse data sets will have a different schema structure. There are various ways to implement structured mark-up for a web page (such as JSON-LD and Microdata).
Lastly, if you create fresh pages of content to replace old ones, or if you want to migrate your community to an entirely new domain or subdomain, is important to use redirections. 301 redirections are the most common and inform search engines what pages have been permanently moved to another location.
Regardless if you decide to implement these technical SEO configurations, we do recommend you choose a good SEO tool. There are many, such as Moz or SEMRush, that allow you to measure and track relevant data for any SEO strategy.
SEO is a complex but crucial aspect of growing a community. Today, we explored the basic principles to help you increase community visibility and promote organic growth. Another thing that helps you grow is offering attractive benefits. Here you have a list of membership benefits ideas to attract new members.